Convention Discussion: Fighting the right danger in a ‘Blue’ State

BY: David Mirtz| May 4, 2014

Submitted by David Mirtz, Bronx, NY

The Framing Document asks questions about the role of the Democratic Party and what our attitude should be towards it – specifically in our local area. This is an attempt to briefly explore some of those questions in the context of New York City and State, one of the ‘Blue’ states.

The reactionary policies of the GOP nationally have alienated the ‘moderate’ republicanism in NY, so that we are currently represented by two Democratic US Senators and 23 of 29 Democratic members of Congress. New York City’s newly-elected mayor is a progressive, as is the city’s Comptroller, its Public Advocate and much of the City Council, including its Speaker. There are a number of progressive state-wide elected officials, including the Attorney General and Comptroller, and the governor is a Democrat. So what of the “right danger”?

Unable to rely on the GOP as the main vehicle to pursue its agenda, the ruling classes here have developed some innovative ways to hold on to power and influence policy. One such way is through Democratic Governor Cuomo, who while socially liberal pursues policies that favor the 1%. The other was the establishment of the “Independent Democratic Caucus,” whereby a handful of Democrats made a deal to share power with the Republicans after the Democrats surprisingly won the State Senate. What have been the results? There were positive steps on gun-control after the horrific Newtown massacre and recently, a victory for state funding for universal pre-K after political momentum generated by the DeBlasio mayoral victory. However, the main direction is the continuation of policies that rather than addressing inequality, promote it. Some of the worst examples of this are huge tax cuts for the wealthy and banks, scrapping election finance reform, favoring funding and locations to charter over public schools, and failing to pass the DREAM Act.

Clearly, while keeping an eye on the Republicans, any strategy to fight the right danger in NY must include an approach to the Democratic Party. Corporate power exerts its influence both in the right-wing politics of the GOP and the centrist policies of the Democrats. The Democratic Party, the main vehicle for the anti-right electoral struggle at this time, is an unreliable, but unavoidable ally. It is itself contested terrain between forces that “reject” or at least distance themselves from the extreme rightwing social policies of the Tea Party Republicans, and those more independent of corporate power that are oriented in a more progressive direction. Strengthening these progressive-oriented forces should be a main focus, not to “win over” or “transform” the Democratic Party, but as part of strengthening the people’s and anti-corporate forces generally in electoral and legislative struggles.

This is not an abstract task, nor is it just focused on elections, but rather, develops out of campaigns and movements that resonate with people’s desire for fairness, paid sick-leave, a living wage, ending the NYPD stop-and-frisk policy, fair elections, affordable housing, etc. These movements force otherwise center-right corporate Democrats to adopt progressive rhetoric to remain politically viable. They also create opportunities when such Democrats don’t deliver. The self described “progressive” Bronx state senator who leads the GOP-allied Independent Democratic Caucus now faces a meaningful challenge in the upcoming elections.

The Working Families Party

New York has a long history of fusion politics – allowing smaller parties to cross-endorse major party candidates, avoiding the spoiler dilemma. The Working Families Party has engaged in this process for the last 15 years or so, chalking up some significant victories that have helped change the political landscape in the state, including the recent election of NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio. The WFP endorsement is increasingly a requirement for a candidate to prove their progressive credentials and has been the margin of victory in some elections. WFP is not just a ballot line, but is a coalition of unions, community organizations and activists engaged in grass-roots work on issues most notably paid sick leave, living/minimum wage and electoral finance reform. These campaigns “move the masses” into action, turn the heat up on politicians and lay the basis for the election battles, both primary and general, that will determine the balance of power in State and local government.

What are the prospects for the WFP? It’s hard to say. As the WFP influence has grown into “the most effective political operation the American left has seen in decades” (American Prospect, Meyerson, 1/6/14), it has drawn more fire from New York’s ruling interests. The upcoming elections will prove an important challenge: recent polls show a WFP gubernatorial candidate trailing Governor Cuomo by only 15% and even with a GOP candidate. Still, Cuomo will be elected Governor. Key questions include: would a WFP candidate who denied Cuomo a significant margin of victory move him to the left or right? Would allowing him to run on the WFP line mean that he would be influenced by progressive forces, or not? What about the State Senate? What scenario offers the most promise for winning it? No one can pretend these are easy questions and there are many different views within the broad anti-right coalition.

Local politics matter

The experience in New York may be somewhat unique, but it does offer some lessons.

First is that engaging in local politics, electoral and otherwise, is decisive in defeating the influence and power of the right wing, both locally and nationally. Only by strengthening the forces independent of corporate power on a local level (unions, community groups, issue-oriented organizations and campaigns that engage in electoral politics and move voters both in the general and increasingly important Democratic primary elections) can the political opportunities needed for advancement be created.

Second: on a local level, our Party’s participation can matter. Prior to 2008 our club in the Bronx had little involvement in local politics and little relation with local activists, groups or elected officials. Through spear-heading work on the Obama campaigns and the subsequent healthcare fight, as well as leading local work of the WFP, that has changed. Now we are “in the loop” and part of the local political scene. We will play an important role in the campaign against our local Democratic turn-coat. All of this has led to interest in our Party and some modest growth.

A profoundly undemocratic electoral system and the ability to mobilize a significant minority of voters have kept an increasingly reactionary GOP alive as an obstructionist party, holding the nation hostage to its political agenda. Given the possibility of a Republican takeover of the Senate in November, and the rightward lean of the judiciary as a significant structural block to expanding democracy, clearly the right-wing danger must not be underestimated. The 2014 mid-term elections are Job #1. But “all politics are local.” An analysis and involvement in state and local politics can put meat on the bones of our fight against the right and have a meaningful impact on politics locally and even nationally. It can reinvigorate our Party’s work and organization as well as our relations with and influence on others. It can inform and strengthen our efforts to transform our Party to meet the challenges of the struggle against 21st century capitalism.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


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